Known for its rolling green hills, its caucus and, of course, its corn, the state of Iowa is an agricultural and cultural treasure in the Midwest. Iowa is lush with farmland, but art and architectural wonders also populate its charming cities and towns.
The state’s cold winters must make for warm hearts — Iowa is known as one of the friendliest and most down-to-earth states in the nation. Clasped on its borders by rivers — the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River to the West — it’s not hard to see why so many Americans want to make their home in Iowa.
The Hawkeye State boasts one of the lowest costs of living in the United States and it has some of the most affordable housing in the country as well. This may be one reason Iowa is seeing a steady population surge: the state has grown by nearly 150,000 residents in the last decade alone.
Affordable housing and friendly neighbors aren’t the only things Iowa has to recommend. It was ranked as one of the safest states in America, with a low overall crime rate, according to USA Today.
Of course, Iowa has also earned the moniker the “Corn State,” a reputation it may find hard to shake, considering it is the world’s single largest producer of grain. Agriculture and farming mean big business in the state, representing 9.3% of the state’s GDP in 2020 and generating over $26 billion.
Education is another major draw to Iowa. Iowans have a 92.5% high school graduation rate — several points above the national average — and nearly 30% of Iowa residents go on to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. Additionally, Iowa is home to numerous colleges and two major public universities: Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!) and the University of Iowa (Go Hawkeyes!), where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was founded in 1936. The institution has launched scores of literary glitterati, including 17 Pulitzer Prize-winners and six Poets Laureate. It was also the program Hannah enrolled in the hit HBO series, “Girls.”
If you’re ready to move and are looking for a moving company in Iowa, Mayflower is here to help you Every Step of the Way®.
There is a reason that Iowa State’s mascot is the cyclone… Iowa weather is notoriously changeable, so it can be hard to know when to move to Iowa. Here are some helpful things to help you plan your move.
In the winter, you’ll need a parka (or two) to ward off the frost. The average temperature is a whimpering 14° F, though snowfall averages are lower than in neighboring states, often amounting to only 18” in the south and up to 42” in the northern region.
Springtime can be unpredictable, bringing snow one minute and tornados and floods the next. Iowans are also no strangers to monster hailstorms either — some as large as softballs have fallen. It’s best to keep your ruby slippers close and your root cellars even closer. However, late spring in Iowa brings an unbelievable showcase of flowers, so it can be well worth the drama.
The tradeoff for these seasonal extremes is the bliss of the Iowa summer. Temperatures stay cool and mild in the mornings and evenings, long after you think they will end, and the fragrance of white oaks and freshly cut grass are a welcome balm. Things can get sticky in July and August (corn sweat really does make things humid, but the average high temperature is only in the mid-80s° F). If there’s a rainy season in Iowa, it’s from May-August, but accumulations vary dramatically across the state, ranging from 26- to-38 inches a year, which hardly qualifies as a monsoon.
Fall is marked by an enormously rewarding show of color from changing leaves and a variety of fruiting trees, like crabapples, making this season one of the best times to move to Iowa. You’ll find no shortage of venues to toast the changing seasons, whether at a “brau house” in the Amana Colonies or in an Iowa City pub after a game.
Living in Iowa
If you’re considering a move to Iowa, you might wonder, “Is Iowa a good state to live in?” Here are some important things to consider when you’re moving to Iowa.
With a population of 3,193,079, the number of Iowans has grown considerably since 2010, gaining nearly 150,000 residents. Over 71% of Iowans own their own homes, and the median home value is $153,900, far below the national average of $229,800. The median gross rent in Iowa is $806/month, over $200 below the average U.S. median rent. The cost of living in Iowa(1) is the 9th lowest in the U.S., and it’s also lower than most of its neighboring states.
With a high school graduation rate of 93% — consistently above the national average — Iowa stands out among its peers.
Iowa’s unemployment rate of 2.6% also sits below the national rate. With a relatively low cost of living and a growing job market, the hardest part may be choosing which city Iowa you should live in.
Best Cities to Live in Iowa
The low cost of living is just one of the many advantages of living in Iowa. The state’s relatively small size means that no matter where you choose to move to in Iowa, you’re well connected to resources across the region.
The capital city of Des Moines is the heart of one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the Midwest. The population of Des Moines — now 212,031 — is on the rise. Combined with neighboring suburbs like West Des Moines, Waukee and Ankeny, the greater Des Moines metro area (DSM) is the largest metropolitan region in the state, with a population that tops 700,000. This population has seen a whopping 18.6% increase over the last 10 years, outpacing St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Omaha.
The median home value in Des Moines is $141,300, but in neighboring Waukee, that cost rises to $248,400, above the national average, but still not approaching big-city prices. The median gross rent in Des Moines is $881.
Des Moines area residents can expect the cost of living and doing business to be up to 12% less than the U.S. national average. Major employers include insurance companies, government agencies, manufacturing, trade and health care services. The region is home to several colleges, including Drake University, which brings a pronounced source of youthful energy to the city vibe.
Not surprisingly, Des Moines is one of the state’s cultural hubs, with world-class collections of art (see below for details), the State Historical Museum, and a jaw-dropping capitol building. If you’re looking for something you can only do in Des Moines, visit the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden, which is open to visitors May-September.
If you’re a Cyclones fan, Ames is your place. Home to Iowa State University of Science and Technology and 66,424 Iowans, this city’s population is also on the rise, growing by nearly 7,500 people over the last 10 years. Ames is just 30 miles north of Des Moines.
The median home value in Ames is $213,500 and the median rent is $944, lower than the national average.
Part of the Big 12 Conference, Iowa State is home to over 30,000 students — making it a giant university with a small-town feel. Agricultural studies and life sciences have long been a hallmark of this institution; in 1879, the university founded the first veterinary medicine school in the U.S.
Downtown Ames is a charmer — the Main Street Cultural District punches well above its weight in food and fun. At the farmer’s market, you’ll find a diverse group of vendors hawking everything from artisanal spices to cricket-flour cookies. There’s also an art museum, a makerspace and an escape room venue.
Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, has a population of 74,596, an increase of over 6,000 people in the last 10 years. The median home value in Iowa City is $223,900, and the median gross rent is $976, both less than the U.S. average.
The lively college town is highly walkable, and its cozy neighborhoods are populated with charming Victorian houses. With over 100 locally owned shops and restaurants, downtown Iowa City is full of indie college vibes and Big 10 energy.
There is a Starbucks here, but you won’t need it, because you’ll have gotten your caffeine fix at Prairie Lights Bookstore & Café, where you might bump into one of the nation’s next best novelists or poets. Locavores will find no happier place to do their weekly shopping than the New Pioneer Co-Op, a community-owned grocer founded in the 1970s, familiarly known as “New-Pi.”
If sports are your thing, you’re in luck, as the Hawkeyes are powerhouses in football and softball and have elite teams in wrestling and women’s basketball. Also, not to be missed: the Stanley Museum of Art — newly renovated and free to all. In the neighboring suburb of Coralville, the Iowa River Landing is a hub of entertainment, from the Xstream Arena to the antique car museum.
Nearby Cedar Rapids — the “city of five seasons” — is the second-largest city in Iowa, with a population of 136,467, an increase of over 10,000 residents over the last 10 years. Its domestic airport serves the greater Iowa City area, about a 30-minute drive away.
The median home value is $144,500 and the median rent is $791, giving this city a lower cost of living than its counterpart in Des Moines.
As part of one of the leading manufacturing regions in the U.S., Cedar Rapids is home to nearly 300 manufacturing plants and two dozen Fortune 500 Companies, including Collins Aerospace, Quaker Oats, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. It is also the largest corn-processing city in the world — well-earned bragging rights in the breadbasket of America.
Davenport and Bettendorf
In northeastern Iowa, you’ll find the Quad Cities, a bi-state, metropolitan area which includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and the Illinois cities of Moline and Rock Island. These four municipalities combine to create a bustling economic engine and provide some serious fun and culture across the Mississippi Riverfront, including music festivals and a public art tour.
Less than a three-hour drive from Chicago, the area is home to 26,000 businesses and has a labor pool of 750,000 people. It’s also a place to get outdoors. If you enjoy off-road cycling, Sunderbruch Park’s green- to black diamond-rated trails offer fun log skinnies, rooty downhills and some truly daring drops to satisfy every rider in your family.
On Iowa’s western border with Nebraska lies Sioux City, an understated gem of 85,617 people, tucked into the Loess Hills on the Missouri River.
The city was named one of the top 10 most livable cities in the U.S., and both Forbes and the Wall Street Journal have lauded the city’s job markets and employers.
Housing prices are far below the national average — the median home value is $123,100 and the median rent is $797.
In addition to being a fast-growing area for businesses, the community is vibrant and active. The STF Expo Center and the IBP ice center will keep families entertained year-round with indoor turf sports, ice skating, ice hockey and curling. The Sioux City Public Museum provides diverse exhibits on city history and culture. If there are younger members in your crew, you are sure to enjoy a trip to the Launch Pad Children’s Museum.
Things You Can Only Experience in Iowa
Each year, cyclists flock to Iowa in droves for Ragbrai, a rollicking, eight-day festival that travels across the state. Non-riders enjoy the food, fun and entertainment that follows this community-centric crowd.
In northeastern Iowa, on the border with Illinois and Wisconsin, the city of Dubuque is another cultural hub, home to the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Dubuque Museum of Art and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Those interested in pioneer history will appreciate a trip to the Mathias Ham Historic Site to see Iowa’s oldest standing building, a “dog-trot” cabin likely built in the late 1820s by a French fur trader.
Some of America’s most popular books and movies of the last 50 years have been set in Iowa, including “A Thousand Acres,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” and “Field of Dreams” — fans can actually visit the clapboard home and ballfield in Dyersville where the movie was filmed. There are no promises made on a winning team emerging from the cornfield, but sometimes dreams really do come true.
You won’t feel like a true Iowan until you have made the pilgrimage to the Iowa State Fair. In 2022, the legendary, 10-day event in Des Moines drew over one million visitors with its famous butter cow, 4-H contests, demolition derby, thrilling rides and — of course — amazing eats. There are many ways to satisfy your hunger at the fair, but the best one is with food on a stick. For dessert, go splitsies with your crew on the fried Twinkies on a stick and the deep-fried cherry pie on a stick. Wash it all down with a smoothie on a stick. Then, hit the rollercoasters!
A trip to the state capital would be incomplete without a stop at the Des Moines Arts Center. The museum’s three buildings were each designed by a different world-renowned architect: One by Eliel Saarinen, a second by I. M. Pei, and the third by Richard Meier. The collection ranges from 19th-century to contemporary works, and everyone will enjoy a stroll around the museum’s 4.4-acre sculpture park.
Northwestern Iowa is a beacon for hikers and campers. The “Iowa Great Lakes” offer a retreat and respite from everyday life and state parks here offer year-round adventure. Fishing is popular in the region, so anglers can set their hooks on walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, bluegills, crappies and more. The lakes are popular swimming holes in the summertime; during the cold months, cross-country skiers and ice fishers find their winter joy.
Each July, Decorah, Iowa, celebrates all things Scandinavian at its annual Nordic Fest. The Ultimate Nordic Triathlon tests the strength, stamina and stomach of festers who participate in the race, rock throw and eating contest. Paddlers of all ages can wet their oars in the Kanoløpet canoe races. For those more interested in feats of brain than those of brawn, the arts and crafts center showcases Scandinavian creativity at its finest: Hardanger embroidery, rosemaling art, ceramics, needlecrafts and more.
Iowans embrace their sense of wonder at the Sanford Museum & Planetarium in Cherokee, which features exhibitions on space exploration and archaeology.
The High Trestle Trail Bridge, an engineering marvel built for pedestrians, is anything but ordinary. The 1/2-mile, 13-story-high bridge over the Des Moines River valley is part of a 25-mile-long system that connects five separate towns and four counties. The BBC listed it as one of “eight amazing footbridges.”
Where Iowans Eat
In Iowa’s big cities (and even in between), you’ll find cutting-edge cuisine that will please the snootiest of foodies, including Orchard Green in Iowa City and Baru66 and Proof in Des Moines.
More than just the corn capital of Earth, pork and cattle are also king in Iowa (sorry, humans — you’re way outnumbered). Try the Steak du Burgo — a beef tenderloin prepared with butter, herbs, and garlic at The Latin King in Des Moines. In Columbus Junction, Acorn Bluff Farms is busy raising sustainable, heritage Mangalitsa pork — you can order chops, roasts and soon-to-be-crispy bacon directly from the outfit.
Wherever you move to Iowa, you’re likely not far from your next Maid-Rite sandwich. These seasoned loose meat sandwiches, made with 100% Midwestern beef, have been satisfying diners for nearly 100 years.
If politicking is your jam, you’ll want to get your morning toast at Iowa City’s famous Hamburg No. 2 Inn. Founded in 1935, the beloved, family-owned establishment slings breakfast all day and also hosts the Coffee Bean Caucus each primary season — presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have all made stops here.
Turophiles (ahem, cheese lovers) must make a pilgrimage to the Maytag Dairy Farms in Newton, Iowa, where the world-famous blue cheese is made.
Get your fix of German fare in the Amana Colonies, a registered National Historic Landmark that treats upwards of 1.5 million visitors to sauerbraten, schnitzel and brews each year. There are also shops and other attractions, including the Mini-Americana Barn Museum.
Le Mars, Iowa, is known as the ice cream capital of the world, thanks to Blue Bunny Ice Cream. Get the full scoop on the company’s history at their visitor’s center and ice cream parlor.
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